When I was growing up we had the Ladybird story book Chicken Licken. In America it’s called Chicken Little. My vague recollection of the tale is that there was a prophet of doom proclaiming that the sky was going to fall down. The subliminal message was don’t believe everything you’re told. It can sometimes feel like Chicken Licken with Christian commentators: the culture is on the slide, if this law is passed it’s the end of it for the church. Personally, I wouldn’t want to argue that with the introduction of some legislation the Christian Church is finished in this country, because ‘Christ’s kingdom stands and grows forever’. The future of Christ’s Church is bright. However, we are called as believers to contend, to stand up for truth and righteousness. Perhaps the other message of Chicken Licken is take courage even when it feels like the sky is falling in. Maybe this is rather more appropriate for the times in which we live now.
The Queen’s speech on Tuesday intimated that the UK government is planning to introduce a ban on so called ‘conversion therapy’ which will have potentially serious consequences for Bible believing Christians and churches.
The Bible’s sexual ethics are clear, counter cultural, and very good. Sexual activity is to be between a man and a woman bound together in the lifelong covenant of marriage. That means all sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and woman is not permitted and is sinful according to the Bible. That is the historic Christian position, and the Bible is not unclear on this. This isn’t an area where there is doubt as to what the Bible really means.
Biblical Christianity does not seek to convert people by force. It pleads with people to look at the evidence and listen to the claims of the God-Man Jesus Christ, to trust him, and submit to his Lordship. We are never to seek to coerce people. The offer of the good news of Jesus is free. We believe that to come to know Jesus is life and life eternal, it is to know rest for the weary. To live under the rule of Jesus Christ is actually to know freedom: his commands fit our humanity.
The Christian church is to publish this message abroad, to tell as many people as will listen to the Bible’s message of life in Jesus Christ. The Christian will want to see their life, and the lives of fellow Christians, conformed to the teachings of the Bible. There will be clashes between what I selfishly want and what God demands in his Word. Christian preachers and leaders are primarily accountable to God as it is their job to teach the Bible, to bring God’s word to bear on our lives and on our world. We need to keep saying to our culture that if there is a God, it is not unreasonable to expect that there are going to be times when God disagrees with us. If that is not the case you will discover that the god you have is actually yourself.
In the normal course of church life I have to deal with people undergoing all sorts of struggles. Some fighting temptations that are contrary to the word of God, struggling with what the Bible would call sinful behaviour and patterns of sin. The proposed legislation could criminalise applying the Bible’s message to that situation, even praying with the individual regarding their struggles could fall foul of the legislation.
I don’t want to totally oppose a ban on ‘conversion therapy’, particularly one which is specifally aimed at pseudo medical practices and some of the religious cranks that are out there. The concern is that this legislation extends the ban into the ordinary, everyday activities of our churches. Praying, preaching, and pastoring must not become a legal minefield simply because we hold mainstream beliefs on sexual ethics, and on the creation of people as male and female. The counselling of someone who feels at odds with their body, who feels they are not the male or female they were born as, would also potentially be banned under this law. This would result in the application of Genesis 1.26+27 to a pastoral situation, becoming a crime.
Everyday church life becomes fraught with difficulties. A married person comes to see me asking for prayer and help resisting sexual temptation. I should not have to ask whether their temptation is heterosexual or homosexual before deciding whether I can lawfully help that person. If a teenager requested prayer alongside their treatment for anorexia to help them stop starving their body of food, I’d be allowed to pray for them. But it would be illegal for me to pray with that teen if they were weighing up taking medication to make their body look more like the opposite sex.
I want to encourage Christians to engage on this issue and write to your MP. If Parliament enacts the kind of broad ban that some activists are demanding, it will potentially have a huge effect on how Christians are able to apply the Bible’s message, and how Christians can care for people. The Christian Institute is doing excellent work in this area and I commend to you their briefing paper here.